C-word at the heart of the Telegraph dispute

Lawrie Sear told Press Gazette last week that he was looking forward to “great fun and good challenges”

at
the Telegraph, where chief executive Murdoch MacLennan had persuaded
him to delay his retirement from the Mail. But that may have been
before he’d been filled in on all the details.

Now that he fully
knows the task at hand, he’ll probably be using a different f-word and
maybe a different c-word too. Because if there’s one thing that is
likely to be in short supply at Canary Wharf over the coming days and
weeks, it’s fun.

Sear’s immediate job is to try to find a way out
of a stand-off that is already looking dangerously unsettling. The
announcement at the end of last week that the company wants 90 of its
500 or so journalists off the payroll was met with a swift – some say
too swift – ultimatum by the union chapel: take that demand off the
table and then we can talk. If not, we ballot for industrial action.

The
management, however, seems unlikely to budge on the numbers. It will
argue that its modernisation programme needs expensive fullcolour press
facilities – it cannot stand still while News International ploughs
forward – which need to be balanced by cost cuts elsewhere.

But
union members are furious not just at the numbers involved – it reckons
the lay-off is really much higher because of the amount of journalists
who work for the papers but aren’t on staff contracts – but also
because of the manner in which they were told. Although letters were
sent out to arrive on Friday, many heard about it when a press release
was issued that day.

The union feels that such a cull – and
that’s probably not an unreasonable word to use – should not have been
presented as a fait accompli, without any form of consultation.

Bosses
might wonder how much appetite there is for disruptive action, given
that just under half of Telegraph journalists are not union members.
They’ll also hope that redundancy terms on offer are generous enough to
bring forward sufficient volunteers.

Yet a strike would certainly
be damaging to morale, and to the newspapers. There are no winners
there. The situation at The Independent , where a pay dispute has also
caused talk of a strike ballot, will no doubt be monitored carefully.

A
challenge indeed. But the best c-word to use is not a swear word. It’s
the one on which this entire business is based. Communication

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